David Wray

Career setbacksCareer stalkersLeadershipOvercome ChallengesSelf-ReflectionSkills

Overcoming those Dreaded Blind Spots!

Seeing a blind spot in action cartoon.
Credit: Clive Goddard

What are blind spots?

A blind spot can quickly become the Achilles heel of performance (personal or professional).

Weaknesses are aspects that we can purposefully strengthen with practice, time, or desire. Whereas blind spots are personal traits, mannerisms, tone of voice, body language, or other aspects we don’t even know about but are visible to others. These traits or aspects may limit the way we act, react, behave or believe, and therefore limit our effectiveness.

All of this, of course, is easy to say but how do we know if we have a blind spot when, by definition, it is invisible to us? Great question! Let’s start by identifying some common ones.

The most common blind spots

Research identifies a plethora of personal blind spots, with the top ten being:

  1. Flying solo
  2. Being oblivious to the feelings of others
  3. Having a know-all attitude
  4. Avoiding tough conversations
  5. Blaming anyone or anything except oneself 
  6. Being too casual with things that matter to others
  7. Undermining other people
  8. Withholding emotional commitment
  9. Not taking a stand
  10. Tolerating “good enough”

Roles where blind spots are most commonly observed

Believe it or not, the higher up the organization we look the more likely we are to see leaders with pronounced blind spots. Travis Bradberry, the author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, found that “for the titles of director and above, scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace.” 

This undoubtedly starts to explain the behaviour of some household name CEOs with a larger-than-life sense of themselves. While colourful CEOS are an interesting case study, let’s focus on identifying and managing everyday blind spots. 

Blind spots are interesting because left unresolved, they eventually derail careers. You’ve undoubtedly heard all about the Peter principle:

“…individuals rise to their highest level of incompetence”

Laurence J. Peter

His work demonstrates how an individual reaches the point at which they are no longer promotable because the current job level is one, they struggle to achieve. This phenomenon commonly occurs because of a blind spot; the person is unaware they have become incompetent (whereas team members are keenly aware of them). 

This example relates to oneself. There are other common blind spot areas, including how leaders see and assess their teams and, in many ways, the company itself. 

Two blind spot examples in action

As a leader

Jessica, the CEO of Software4U, believes she already knows the best course of action or the right decision. As a result, she tends to be unwilling to invest the time to listen to other points of view, or she appears to listen and then quietly dismisses it later on. Jessica may go so far as to interrupt people or prematurely halt conversations thereby quickly ending discussions. Her team, therefore, learns that it’s a waste of time to raise risks or share opposing views and ideas. 

The outcome: Jessica believes her team agrees with her and everything is fine when in reality it’s a car crash waiting to happen. 

As an individual

Peng’s flaws are shrugged away and any information challenging his self-assessment is promptly ignored. Why? Peng overestimates his abilities because he believes that what has worked in the past will once again ensure present-day success. He is failing to consider Marshall Goldsmith’s “What got you here won’t get you there”. The key takeaway is recognizing that praise can be problematic if it causes us to delude ourselves when all we hear are positive things. This self-confidence boost may then result in us becoming resistant to change.

The outcome: Peng overestimates his ability, focuses only on reinforcing information, and has become resistant to change. 

Armed with an understanding of what a blind spot is, and how it manifests itself, let’s shift our focus to solving it.

Shining a light to extinguish blind spots

Blind spots can only be resolved once we shine a light on them, pushing them from the unknown into the known. Interestingly, once we become aware of our blind spots, we might fall into a trap of blaming anyone or anything else. This is commonly referred to as a victim state of mind (or victim mentality).  I share techniques for moving out of a victim mindset into something more useful in my blog Gloomy From a Job Loss – You Can Replace Your Thoughts

Looking past any initial defensive reactions that may pop up, change fundamentally happens when we see, face, and change a blind spot behaviour into something more effective. 

There are several steps we can take to combat blind spots, my top three tips are:

  1. Find someone to be your devil’s advocate – this is really about a strategy to overcome our own biases.
  2. Keep track of things in writing – this is about preventing revisionist history (we’re all good at remembering only what we want to…and forgetting the unflattering things).
  3. Fight against group think – surround yourself with diverse views, opinions, and individuals that willingly speak up and challenge. In other words, ditch the “yes” people hiring strategy!

Removing blinders so we have a full and unvarnished view of ourselves is the self-awareness we need to achieve. It is in this space that lies growth and great leadership.

Your turn

Sign-in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views, tips, and tricks on how you self-assess or influence someone when they have a blind spot.

Give it a try!

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